Is Kentucky’s coal industry being destroyed for no good reason?

Climate experts complain about research to Congress

The Heartlander is reporting that 300 climate experts are protesting climate data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that they claim inflates the amount of global warming which is actually occurring. The experts also take issue with the idea that carbon dioxide is involved with any small warming that might be occurring.

Highlander talks about the expert’s letter to U.S. House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), saying:

“The letter said NOAA’s research failed to comply with Data Quality Act (DQA) guidelines established by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget requiring agencies to ‘ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information, including statistical information.’ DQA notes it is especially important for data to be accurate and of the best quality when it involves ‘highly influential scientific assessments’ used to inform the public and shape public policy.”

For our more technical readers, the Heartlander article is worth your time.

Jefferson County Schools’ low bang for the buck in federal testing

Several days ago I blogged about some education finance issues dealing with the relatively low amount of federal funding for education in each state versus the requirement to follow federal mandates to receive that money. Today I offer another financial examination, this time looking at how Kentucky’s largest school district stacks up in the latest available data for its scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 8 Mathematics Assessment in 2013 versus the total revenue per pupil for each district participating in that NAEP.

JeffCO Versus Other TUDA States for NAEP G8 Math and Per Pupil Funding 2013

Data for this table come from the NAEP Data Explorer web tool and a finance publication from the National Center for Education Statistics, “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013), First Look.”

I sorted the table by each school district’s NAEP scores for white students, listed in the column with pink shading. Notice that the Jefferson County School District ranks near the very bottom for its scores for white students (as I have explained many times before, you cannot get valid comparison performance information from tests involving Kentucky by only looking at overall student average scores. You must break it out by race).

I checked for the sampling errors in the NAEP scores, and all the listed districts from Los Angeles and above in the table scored statistically significantly higher than Jefferson County did for white Grade 8 NAEP Math in 2013. Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Fresno actually scored in a statistical tie with Jefferson County once the sampling errors in these scores are considered.

Education financing looks different. While Jefferson County ranks in 16th place for test scores, it places 9 out of 18 for its education revenue in 2013. Jefferson County’s per pupil revenue in federal Fiscal Year 2013 (which began in October 2012, thus aligning fairly well with the 2012-13 school term when the NAEP was given) ranks in the middle of the pack among districts that had data for both NAEP and funding for this school year.

In fact, the Jefferson County Public School District’s per pupil education revenue of $12,377 ranks at number 23 among the 100 largest enrollment school districts in the United States. The average revenue per pupil across those 100 districts is over $1,300 lower at $11,014.

Summing up, when the data in the table is considered, Jefferson County is getting below average bang for the buck for its white students.

By the way, the NAEP Data Explorer also shows that in 2013 Jefferson County had a much larger proportion of whites than any other district in the listing. Jefferson County was 52 percent white while the next closest district, Hillsborough, Florida, was only 38 percent white. A number of the other districts, such as Atlanta, Chicago and Houston, have 10 percent or less white enrollment. A lot of education researchers would say that should make the education challenges easier for Jefferson County. If so, it isn’t showing in the results.

So, the data in the table is particularly ominous. The money is there for Jefferson County – the performance……..well.

Bluegrass Institute statement on today’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Hale prohibiting county right-to-work ordinances: 


The following statement was issued by Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters following U.S. District Court Judge David Hale’s ruling prohibiting county right-to-work ordinances:

Judge Hale’s ruling that federal law prevents Kentucky counties from implementing their own right-to-work ordinances not only pushes aside the will of the people as expressed through their Legislature, it completely negates the intention of this nation’s founders in establishing a Constitution that empowers sovereign states and their citizens.

The ruling completely disregards at least two United States Supreme Court rulings that uphold county ordinances as state law. But perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that Hale either disregarded or perhaps doesn’t even understand our system of federalism.

Rather than recognizing that the United States Constitution’s Tenth Amendment clearly establishes that the federal government’s power is granted by the states, Hale’s ruling indicates a belief that the commonwealth of Kentucky and its people must be content with tiny morsels of decision-making authority tossed our way by an all-powerful federal government.

Opinions issued by Kentucky’s greatest legal minds — including retired Kentucky Supreme Court justices Joseph Lambert and Will Graves as well as Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken and Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham — clearly hold that counties, as political subdivisions of the commonwealth — have the statutory authority to pass economic-development legislation like right-to-work ordinances.

Despite this legally thin ruling — Hale’s first major civil decision since arriving on the federal bench as an Obama appointee — the work of the Bluegrass Institute in leading an effort resulting in several counties passing their own local right-to-work ordinances covering 600,000 people clearly shows that Kentuckians from Boone County in Northern Kentucky to Simpson County along the commonwealth’s southernmost border believe in the economic opportunity and individual liberty offered by right-to-work policies. We’ve already had a referendum of sorts as 113 of the 118 votes cast by locally elected fiscal court magistrates in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner have said “yes” to right-to-work.

The Kentucky General Assembly could make sure the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians — as represented by these local officials — are honored by passing right-to-work in Frankfort during the 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Doing so would get the future of right-to-work in our state out of the courthouse and back to the statehouse where it belongs.

For more information or comment, contact Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters @(270) 320-4376



Columnist, parents not fooled by Kentucky’s Common Core review

Per Kentucky’s state education leaders, it was a big deal last year when the results came back from the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge public comment program. Supposedly, there was overwhelming support to keep the Common Core based standards just as they are.

Of course, the entire operation of the Challenge was biased. For starters, outright calls to drop the standards for something better (e.g. the old Massachusetts standards) were explicitly prohibited. The design of the web site also tended to force comments into a mold favoring the standards as is.

But, Kentuckians were not fooled by claims from state educators that the Challenge showed an 88 percent approval rate for the standards as is. The best proof of that came in November when Matt Bevin, who openly called for massive changes or repeal of the Common Core, handily beat his opponent.

Others are not fooled, either. Columnist Robert Holland, writing for, talks about how Kentucky and other states tried to load the dice in favor of keeping Common Core even though the public is clearly unhappy with the standards.

Holland points out that Academic Benchmarks (AB), the web support company that provided the site for the Challenge and for similar efforts in other states, isn’t exactly an unbiased operation. Per Holland, bias in the way the web sites questions about the standards are set up is “clear.” Holland writes:

“This methodology clearly favors those in AB’s Common Core community who wish to preserve the status quo; it takes only one click to agree, and no comment is required. That lends itself to organized amen choirs. Conversely, those who think the educrats should amend or delete standards must offer extensive rewrites or commentary.”

In the end, Holland makes a case that ‘Big Data’ tries to zero out parents in Common Core reviews.

But, Holland is betting on parents. BIPPS is doing the same.

Right-to-work courage in the Mountain State could add momentum to Bluegrass State’s effort

Right-to-Work logoNeighboring West Virginia could, for all intents and purposes, become America’s 26th right-to-work state before the week is over.

The Workplace Freedom Act, which passed the state’s Senate by an 18-16 vote on Jan. 21, is scheduled on the House of Delegates’ calendar for a third reading tomorrow.

All of this comes on the heels of a 55-44 vote in the Mountain State’s House last week to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage mandates, which have been driving up the cost of state-funded construction projects for one year longer – 81 years, to be exact – than anti-labor freedom forces have controlled the House. (Does this sound familiar, Kentucky?)

That bill now goes to the Senate.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s expected vetoes of these bills won’t matter. The GOP has the votes to overturn them and they are expected to hang together to do so. (Does the need for this also sound familiar, Kentucky?)

In an email note yesterday to West Virginia delegates, Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters testified to the impact that right-to-work has had on the economic growth and future prospects of Warren County, which in December 2014 became the nation’s first county to pass a local right-to-work ordinance. He wrote:

Please consider what Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon told the Bluegrass Institute’s annual President’s Dinner & Liberty Awards attendees about what’s happened since his fiscal court passed the right-to-work ordinance barely 13 months ago:

The county “now being considered for 89 new expansion or relocation projects, which represents nearly 10,000 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new investment,” but that, since passage of the local right-to-work ordinance, “the county has attracted more than $900 million in new capital investment just during the past calendar year – which represents the last 10 years combined for Warren County.”

If that kind of response can happen in one single Kentucky county, what do you think could happen in a state like West Virginia, where the Obama administration’s anti-coal policies have brought devastating economic consequences? Couldn’t your constituents use some new job opportunities in areas where they would be particularly suited such as in the manufacturing sector?

You have the opportunity to shake your collective fists at this failed administration which cares nothing about your people and future and do what the founders of this Republic and of our states intended: Tell the big-government, anti-freedom forces that would defend the status quo and hold back your people to “Pound Sand.”

Waters also noted the impact that having yet another of Kentucky’s neighboring states pass right-to-work could have on supporters’ efforts to bring such policy to our commonwealth:

Your courage in bringing right-to-work to your state will exert tremendous pressure beyond just your universe. It will give us added momentum here in Kentucky and to those right-to-work supporters in Ohio to do the right thing in those states, not to speak of the added competitive advantage that you will give yourself and your people.

I would remind that right-to-work isn’t only the right thing in terms of economic growth, but it’s even more important that you protect the individual – and constitutional – freedoms of the citizens as I’m assuming you placed your hand on a Bible and swore to do.

Think about it, we’ve had 25 states pass right-to-work without a single successful union challenge that resulted in stopping a statewide effort. Here in Kentucky, we’re so convinced that right-to-work is needed that we’ve been willing to risk a court challenge to pass these local ordinances. I would reiterate: You don’t even have to worry about that – as unions absolutely have no chance of stopping a statewide policy that’s clearly is allowed by federal labor law and successfully enacted by 25 other states.










National expert: Charters can put KY in education Super Bowl

The Courier-Journal ran an interesting Jeanne Allen Op-Ed about how charter schools can put Kentucky into an education Super Bowl a few days ago.

Says Allen:

“Why has it been so hard to deliver this common-sense choice for Kentucky’s kids? Even while nearly 2.9 million children are served by more than 6,700 charter schools across the country, it seems that myths and misconceptions have kept Kentucky one of only seven states still denying its most needy students access to the choice of a public charter school. Unfounded arguments often deter lawmakers from taking the bold step of reforming their public school system, a monopoly that challenges its teachers, staffs and students.”

Good points!

Why is it taking Kentucky so long to catch on to this better idea for kids? Who really benefits from the traditional public school monopoly in Kentucky?

More on Education feeding at the federal trough

I posted a blog yesterday that discusses how the federal government buys its way into control of state education programs with surprisingly small amounts of money compared to the total education spending from state taxpayers. Here is a bit more on this elusive subject.

I was just pointed to a comment found in US Congressman Scott Garrett’s web site about how federal money might not be really helpful to the states. Here is what the congressman says under his discussion of the Learn Act:

“As the elementary and secondary education system exists today, states receive money from the federal government for education through the Department of Education. Not surprisingly, most of this money is lost in administrative costs and bureaucratic redundancy. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 41 percent of the financial support and staffing of state education agencies is a byproduct of federal regulations and mandates. In other words, the federal government is the root cause of 41 percent of the administrative burden at the state level despite providing just 7 percent of overall education funding.”

Right now, some of my correspondents are searching for that GAO study, which might shed more light on the particular situation in Kentucky.

If more information surfaces, I’ll let you know.

I did find a recent report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “Ten Thousand Commandments, An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State, 2015 Edition,” which shows on Page 10 that the annual costs of regulations from the US Department of Education were estimated at $11 Billion.

But there are other federal regulations school must comply with, such as agriculture department regulations that impact food service and IRS regulations that cover salary operations, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute lists those costs under other areas besides the Department of Education. So, I don’t have a good handle on the total federal regulatory costs for school systems. Again, people are searching for that, and I’ll let you know if more data surfaces.

Education feeding at the federal trough

I was at a conference last week where a question came up about how much each state’s public education system feeds at the federal trough. Of special interest: what percentage of each state’s total education funding comes from Washington?

So, I checked what I have found to be the best available source to compare funding in different states. This is from the latest edition of the US Census Bureau’s Public Education Finances documents (online here).

Census spends a lot of time reconciling the very different accounting reports found in the 50 states’ and District of Columbia’s public school systems to develop the most “apples-to-apples” education funding information available.

Using the Elementary-Secondary Revenue information in that 2013 data report, I developed this table, ranked by each state’s federal percentage contribution to that state’s total revenue (click on table to enlarge, if needed).

Census Local - State - Federal Education Revenue by State and Percent Federal to Total 2013

As you can see, Kentucky isn’t the largest “wallower” in federal education dollars, but we do grab the cash – as a proportion of our total spending – at well above average rates. A bit over 12 percent of all of Kentucky’s education revenue in the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2013 period came from federal sources.

Of course, this federal money is far from “free.” In exchange for the dollars, Kentucky has been forced to agree to all sorts of federal demands. Some have been OK, others are terrible. But, all result in a dilution of state and local control of education without any really dramatic evidence that the feds know better than we do.

Furthermore, this is being driven by a relatively small total contribution from the federal government in comparison to a rather massive amount of state and local education dollars.

Folks in other states are starting to ask if the federal money is really worth the hassle. Even though Kentucky gets a bit more than its fair share from the feds, maybe Kentuckians also need to start asking if the real benefits from the federal cash outweigh all the costs and liabilities that this money brings to our state. Should we allow the feds so much control when they only contribute a bit more than one in ten dollars that Kentucky spends on education?

What do you think?

Time to do the math for Kentucky’s high school graduation rates

Jim Waters has boiled down the nonsense behind Kentucky’s massive awards of high school diplomas into a simple to understand discussion for his weekly column.

It’s really sad that people across the country, even including Melinda Gates, are crowing about Kentucky’s claimed 88 percent high school graduation rate as though the diplomas were really meaningful. The truth is even the Kentucky Department of Education’s own data show far too many diploma awards in this state are nothing more that social promotion exercises.

This is just more evidence of the sorts of things Dewey Hensley, the former academic director in Jefferson County Public Schools, charged was wrong with education in his resignation letter. Wrote Hensley:

“Often ‘credit’ weighed much more than “credibility” in our work.”

Quote from: Letter from Dewey Hensley to David Jones, Jefferson County Board of Education chairman, and JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, October 10, 2015

Sadly, when it comes to Kentucky’s massive awards of clearly non-credible diplomas, all we can say is “Amen.”

Opponents of parental school choice defy logic, deny research

NSCW-Stacked-Logo-Unit4-150x150 (1)When faced with both research and logic supporting policies empowering parents to choose the school that best fits their child’s needs, opponents of such liberty “usually appeal to philosophical arguments about the value of education as a public good,” writes Western Kentucky University education professor and Bluegrass Institute Scholar Gary Houchens, Ph.D. “Society, the economy, and American democracy benefit by a strong public investment in schools. Which is true, of course. But there is no reason to presume that, because education is a public good, it must necessarily be delivered to all children by a government-run school.”

Continuing this same vein of logic, Houchens notes other ways in which we provide public goods to poor families:

We recognize health as a public good too, but we don’t assume that we must get all of our health care from government-run hospitals and doctors’ offices.

We don’t tell families who receive food stamps which grocery store they must shop at to buy food.

We don’t tell Medicaid patients which doctor they have to visit for health care.

We don’t tell college students which university they must attend to use their Pell grant (or GI Bill).

Houchens notes it’s “patently unfair” and “inconsistent” to deny parents who can’t afford the same educational options that affluent families have “the most personal decision of all – who is going to educate your children.”

When it comes to the research, the good professor notes a 2013 report from the Friedman Foundation offering a comprehensive analysis of many high quality research studies showing mostly positive outcomes of school choice programs.

The Friedman report shows that out of 36 gold-standard research studies, 11 demonstrate positive outcomes for children who participate in school choice programs and 21 show positive outcomes for students who choose to remain in public schools within a larger school-choice environment. Two other studies showed no visible effects. None of the studies demonstrated a negative impact on students as a result of school choice policies.  

Eighteen other studies analyzed in the report describe the impact of school choice programs on other important variables like racial segregation of schools, the fiscal impact on taxpayers, and civic values among students. Again, most studies showed positive outcomes on all counts, and none showed a negative impact.

This concludes our blog series that was one of more than 16,000 “events” nationwide to press for more educational liberty for parents. Read previous entries here, here, here, here, here and here. 

Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states without at least one important parental school-choice option such as public charter schools or scholarship tax credits. This will change as we continue to empower Kentuckians with the data and the logic to make their own arguments that will, in the end, serve a multitude of low-income families.